Pavel Vasil’evich Lobanov (1923–2016)

Pavel Vasil’evich Lobanov in his studio at the Scriabin Museum, Moscow, 2004‏

Pavel Vasil’evich Lobanov, who died on January 9 2016, was a man of extraordinary and versatile talents: pianist, scholar-researcher, engineer, sound recording producer.

His contribution to the world of Scriabin research was highly significant, but only a part of the distinguished career which brought him the award of ‘Distinguished Cultural Worker of the Russian Federation’.

Pavel Vasil’evich was born in Moscow. The two sides of his development, the artistic and the scientific, are symbolised by the backgrounds of his parents: his mother studied piano, and at the outbreak of World War I was intending to enter the Petrograd Conservatoire, as it was then known. His father studied in the Petrograd Polytechnical Institute, and eventually became deputy director of the Institute of Physics in Moscow.

The family moved to Moscow before Pavel Vasil’evich was born. They were frequently visited by the great Russian pianist Vladimir Sofronitsky. Pavel Vasil’evich studied piano at the Gnesin school; at this time his main interests were scientific and astronomic, and he considered that but for the outbreak of war he would probably have entered Moscow State University. Indeed, during the war he was working on high-tension electric relays, a very specialised subject. But he continued piano lessons, joining Sofronitsky’s class when the latter was moved from Leningrad to Moscow in 1942.

Lobanov started working at Gnesin Institute in 1949, and at that time had the difficult task of teaching piano by correspondence to external students. This led him to consider the use of recordings to convey what could not be explained in writing: at that time, before tape recorders were available in the U.S.S.R., records were made for this purpose out of reprocessed X-ray photographs, a method known picturesquely as ‘on the ribs’.

Lobanov’s use of recorded material led to the recording of many lessons by Heinrich Neuhaus and other distinguished teachers, the recordings being circulated to music colleges and issued publicly.

He also recorded some sessions with Sofronitsky in 1954, now available from Prometheus Editions, and many of the legendary occasions on which Sofronitsky performed on Scriabin’s own piano in the intimate surroundings of the Scriabin Museum in Moscow. Many of these recordings are also available in various CD reissues. Despite the limitations and difficulties of the circumstances, limited availability of tape, street noises, and the necessity of recording surreptitiously so as not to distract Sofronitsky, who hated recording, these taped performances recreate a unique atmosphere and some revelatory and transcendent performances.

Out of the work at Gnesin grew a project to develop a ‘learning laboratory’, where theoretical subjects could be taught with the aid of mechanical means, something like today’s ‘language laboratories.’ The equipment for this was developed by 1963 and demonstrated in Paris the following year. This work in turn led Lobanov to considerations of the relation between musical theory and practice, and of the nature of notation, its limitations and its relation to performance. It was a logical step for him to begin studying piano rolls which were made in the early years of the twentieth century, recording the playing of great exponents. Through his studies with Sofronitsky, and his having heard countless performances by this great artist, Lobanov had already acquired a deep understanding of the music of Scriabin. The piano rolls revealed the differences between Scriabin’s performances and the written texts, differences which had been noted during the composer’s lifetime by his biographer Sabaneyev and the critic Yuli Engel’, and enabled systematic study of these modifications, of the composer’s rubato and of the individual features of his style. Lobanov developed a method of showing the content of the rolls in staff notation. A book and several volumes of notated performances resulted from this. Lobanov’s technical abilities also enabled him to achieve satisfactory results in playing the rolls, and from 1970 he produced recordings of piano rolls from the playing of Scriabin, Teresa Carreño, Hoffman, Reisenauer, Busoni and others, which were issued by the state firm ‘Melodiya’.

Lobanov stopped working at Gnesin Institute in 1983, and continued for several years to work as a record producer for ‘Melodiya’. From 1992 to 2009 he was a researcher at the Scriabin Museum. His uniquely broad and deep knowledge, as well as his openness, generosity and personal charm, fitted him well to this role – he was valued highly for his consultations with visitors interested in Scriabin, his demonstrations with films, recordings and illustrations at the piano.

This is a rich legacy indeed to leave to the world of musical research in general and to Scriabin research in particular. A list of some publications and recordings is appended. Those of us, though, who had the privilege of personal contact with Pavel Vasil’evich Lobanov will long remember his warmth and generosity, his mischievous humour and his inspiring knowledge and dedication.

Simon Nicholls, Jan 2016

Selected publications by Pavel Lobanov:

A. N. Skryabin – interpretator svoikh kompozitsii [Skryabin, interpreter of his own compositions.] Moscow, Scriabin Memorial Museum, Iris-Press,1995.

Alexander Scriabin: Selected works, new versions based on the composer’s recordings, transcribed and edited by Pavel Lobanov. Moscow, Scriabin Memorial Museum, Muzyka, 1998. Vol. 1: selected pieces; vol.2: Sonatas nos. 2 and 3 (piano roll transcriptions of the finale of Sonata no. 2 and of the first two movements of sonata 3 were provided.)

Alexander Scriabin: Sonata no. 2 (complete transcription). Moscow, Scriabin Memorial Museum, Muzyka, 2007.

Alexander Scriabin: Sonata no. 3 (complete transcription). Moscow, Scriabin Memorial Museum, Muzyka, 2010.

(The majority of the material in these publications is reproduced, with further comment, in Anatole Leikin: The Performing Style of Alexander Scriabin, Farnham [U.K.], Ashgate, 2011.)

A selection of Lobanov’s recordings of the lessons of Heinrich Neuhaus is included with the publication:

G. G. Neigauz [Heinrich Gustafovich Neuhaus]: Dokladi i vystupleniya, besedy i seminary, otrkrytye uroki [Lectures and speeches, conversations and seminars, public lessons]. Moscow, Literaturnoe nasledie [Literary heritage], 2008.

Recordings of Scriabin’s piano roll recordings as transferred by P. V. Lobanov have been reissued many times, including, in the West, Scriabine et les Scriabinistes, Le chant du monde/Harmonia Mundi, LDC 288032, 1992.

Lobanov’s lesson recordings with Sofronitsky are issued, along with some previously unreleased Sofronitsky performances, on Vladimir Sofronitsky In Tuition, Prometheus Editions, 003, 2002.

Ten CDs of Sofronitsky’s performances at the Scriabin Museum, Moscow, are available from the Russian firm Vista Vera. One disc of a 1960 Sofronitsky Scriabin programme in the Museum has been issued in the West: Scriabin chez Scriabin, Arbiter 157, 2008.